NRO adds cubesats to its fleet

NRO adds cubesats to its fleet

Small cubesats, or nanosatellites, offer agencies the opportunity to get more technology in orbit for a fraction of the cost of full-size, custom-built satellites.

The National Reconnaissance Office Director Betty Sapp described cubesats’ affordable space launch capability as “a huge enabler for us.” 

“There are some missions that have never been affordable in the past that we can now afford to go after,” she said during an appearance at the recent GEOINT 2016 conference. And the lower costs allow NRO to provide services to its mission partners for “things that they really need us to do that have never been above the line for funding," she said. "They were just too expensive to chase.”

Sapp could not provide  details on NRO’s classified missions, but she said the agency is using cubesats for its own applications: “We used to use them just for technology and demonstrations, and we launched them for others, but now we’re using them for actual mission applications.”

A September 2015 NRO satellite launch carried 13 cubesats, nine for NRO and four of which were sponsored by NASA, as part of a launch ridesharing program.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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